Cabo San Lucas – Chapter 1

January 11, 1991

It’s not quite 8 a.m. yet. I’ve been up since five. I’m on the plane to Pittsburgh, ready for takeoff. I’m not quite as nervous as I thought I would be, although this is only the beginning of a long trip which won’t end until twelve hours from now. We’re expecting 3-6 inches of snow here in Philly, though looking out my window now I don’t see any flakes. The sky is gray and white.

*****

In the Pittsburgh airport now, waiting to board my next plane. Interesting group of people on this plane. This is flight 9 to Phoenix. Arizona. I’ve never been anywhere near Arizona.

I love the feeling of the plane when it takes off – racing down the runway, thrusting your body against the seat. The chair absorbs you, cradles you. The flight attendant is handing out blankets. Blankets. I’m sweating. It’s raining lightly here in Pittsburgh, with a little slush on the runway. My hands are trembling from that coffee I had back in Philly.

Hello Pilot! He’s talking to us now, in that slow droning voice that sounds like he’s been smoking weed in the lounge. They have television monitors for instructions – too funny! I’ve never seen anything like this. Some people are cracking up.

*****

Later…

The pilot just informed us we are directly over Kansas. You should see the ground below. It’s amazing – looks like a giant marble floor. Or a marble chess board. Sam would like that. He’s asked me a dozen times already if I play chess, and my answer never changes. He wanted me to go skiing over break. Does he even remember that I don’t ski?

This past week I was sick, and only got sicker, which prompted me to go to the doctor. Who looked in my ears, nose, and throat, and told me I had a minor sinus infection. The inside of my nose is “pretty irritated,” he said, LIKE I didn’t know that already. It’s fuckin raw is what it is! I had a nosebleed in New York, which I forgot about but then why the hell would I want to remember that?

I had lunch with E yesterday at Ridgley’s. Everybody turned and stared when we walked in. I guess they’ve never seen a motorcycle jacket before. I had forgotten my tissues before leaving the house, so I had to carry my roll of toilet paper in from my car. The waitress looks at it and then asks me did I carry that in with me? It’s a goddamned roll of toilet paper, freaking Scott tissue which is what – 25 cents a roll? I thought E was going to wet herself.

*****

I’m sitting now in the Phoenix airport, and I just figured out why my hand is shaking. My bag is so heavy that it’s hurting my hand, which is all red and swollen. My arm is killing me. I don’t really feel like exploring right now. The headset from the in-flight movie gave me a headache, that I know isn’t going away anytime soon. It’s about 1:30 and I have six more hours on this God-forsaken trip before I actually get where the hell I’m going. At least three more, before I can board my last plane.

Arizona looks beautiful – when we began our descent, the view was just exquisite. Rolling mountains and valleys. Really incredible shades of color – soft browns turning darker, little green peaks, I even spotted a snow-capped mountain in the distance.

I’m sitting near an escalator and two workmen just walked by. The one says to the other, “see this? You’re gonna like this. Sal just oiled that thing up.” A lot of men around here remind me of Jose. Which is funny. Just wait til I get to Mexico.

I was sweating like a whore in church, so I ran to the bathroom and changed my shirt. Wild fuckin bathrooms – the toilets flush themselves. It’s bizarre. I just stood up and was looking for a way to flush the toilet and all of a sudden it’s like the psycho thing read my mind. Scared the shit out of me. And get this, the faucets are all automatic too. Welcome to the future.

*****

Soldiers! Everywhere. I walked down this corridor to my gate and passed dozens of them, likely being deployed to Saudi Arabia. Young too – at least, they looked younger than me. A certain sadness fell over me, as I considered where they were going and the fact that some may not return. Uncomfortable and feeling helpless, I averted my eyes from most of them. I heard something about sending more troops. Christ. Are there any left? I think they started calling in the Reserves now. Saddam Hussein’s deadline is January 15.

I have no idea what time it is, only that it has to be somewhere near four. My gate has just been changed to B7, two gates away, so I had to pick up this incredible load and move. Up until now there were only two old couples waiting with me. Now there’s many more people. They’re all showing up now, and the board still says “Omaha,” so they’re all wondering if it’s the right gate.

 

Red Cups and BK and Bud Lite, Oh My! — A Cycling Tour Through Rural America

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Todd and I have taken up riding again, in a last ditch effort to get fit and lose weight before we just give up and lie on the couch drinking beer and watching Family Feud. So far we’ve had two rides – the first was a 13.6-mile cycle around our town, and the second almost 9-mile was a grueling hilly ride.

Twice my chain came off because it’s my bike and I shifted down too far. The next thing I know I’m spinning my wheels in place like a stationary bike, except this bike isn’t made for that and I was on a hill going nowhere and about to fall over.

Todd performed the first fix. He rides in front of me because apparently I’m too slow for him so the second time he was already at the top of the hill and I whispered fuck! before I decided to fix it myself. Check another item off the bucket list I haven’t made yet.

After spending so many years running and then struggling to run with injuries, cycling is a welcome change. Same satisfaction, less stress on the joints. Plus you can get places. We live in the country so there’s no shortage of beautiful scenery – green acres and rolling landscapes, farms and old houses, new houses and historic places.

A country ride is full of fresh air and the wind rushing past your ears, the call of birds, buzzing insects, the smell of cut grass, the occasional monstrous new home rising starkly against the back drop of quaint ranchers and old farmhouses, and… dogs. The roads are just wide enough for two cars and there’s always some asshole in a monster truck whipping by, close enough to feel the heat of the exhaust.

There’s no shortage of Bud Lite bottles. I could count a case from my house out and back. Empty BK and McDonald’s containers, which makes absolutely no sense to me since there are no stores around these roads.  One can only assume these were thrown out the window on the way home. Really? Can’t wait to get home and put it in the garbage can? At least I find a trash can for the contraband, losing the evidence before I get home so no one knows. (For the record, dumping the bags before I get home never works anyway. Veruca has the nose of a bloodhound and Todd insists the odor lives in the car’s interior fibers.)

An entire newspaper was spread over the front border of someone’s lawn. I saw a pair of work gloves (several yards from each other), a shoe (why is there always just one shoe?), a shirt (don’t even want to know), car parts (in rural America, this is par for the course).

Timing of the ride is everything, depending on which way the wind is blowing, the smell of manure or some other fertilizer slaps you in the face – the assault on the senses most unwelcome. No matter growing up in the country, and living around farms for the last several years – I’ve never, ever gotten used to the smell.

Otherwise, there are hundreds of photo-worthy sites… old schoolhouses and dilapidated old buildings, rusty old farming equipment, crumbling stone walls, even the dozens of foreclosures seen around the area – and yes, sadly, there are many – lend their own interest in the overgrown green around them, the dusty and darkened windows, the mystery of who lived there and what happened to them.

The rural bike ride is both athletic and leisurely – the burn in your legs as you push up the steepest hill, the thrill of a brakeless run down the opposite side. It is peaceful and introspective, even as you share it with someone. The lingering danger of riding on any roadway where strangers must be trusted to pay attention and not to be texting, or worse – intoxicated – is ever present, as well as the dogs defending life and property. It is triumphant – as you coast into your driveway knowing that you set out to accomplish a goal and you did it. Even better when you can do it with your better half – strengthening the bond and connection with shared experiences.

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Stone stairs to nowhere

Photo copyright TKA and The Tara Chronicles, 2017

 

The Weekend, Food, and the Apocalypse

The 4th of July weekend, they call it, even though the 4th doesn’t actually fall on a weekend this year, but is in fact on Tuesday. But the fireworks and explosives junkies don’t let a little detail like that derail their plans to blow shit up and generally disturb whole neighborhoods and animals alike. FIVE days of fireworks in my neighborhood.

I am fairly certain the new residents of the only house that was still for sale were responsible for the majority of them, which doesn’t bode well for our community or their reputation. The former residents’ three boys earned a reputation for illegal and occasionally dangerous shenanigans. When they finally moved away, even the trees breathed a sigh of relief.

Anyway. I picked the kids up Monday morning with plans to go to my dad’s for the day. It wasn’t even 9 a.m. yet, so I went to my mom’s to pick up Todd’s table saw – that he’d left in her driveway on Friday. Just drove away and forgot it. We hung out with mom for a bit and the neighbor’s little Shih Tzu came over – the cutest little thing ever who might be cuter if she actually gave a shit about anything but treats. Veruca gave her a piece of Pupperoni and a whole one to Moses, my mom’s Great Pyrenees, which he held in his mouth like a cigarette and little Tessie hopped over to him and brazenly bit the end off of it.

We left mom’s and picked up hoagies at Wawa for later, and then went to McDonald’s for breakfast. Opac and I were hungry; Veruca had had breakfast before I picked her up but she was suddenly hungry again and stepped up to order her food: hot cakes and hash browns with a Mocha Frappaccino. It would seem that Todd’s luck with food places of any kind is wearing off on V – they made her the wrong drink but caught it before handing it over, and then she found a hair in her hot cakes which I’m fairly sure belonged to Tessie the Shih Tzu.

I watched the employee who made the first coffee drink lose her shit behind the counter and throw her cap down on top of the bagging station, which – I don’t know – seems like some sort of health code violation, all because the other woman told her the drink was wrong. She stalked around the counter and later out by the drink station, still hatless, bitching to some guy standing with her about I-don’t-know-and-don’t-want-to-know-what. She was angry. And big. And made eye contact with me in the midst of her rant, which somehow made me feel more uncomfortable than I like to be, that early in the morning.

Meanwhile, back at the pool, the three of us swam for an hour or so, played “colors” and some saturated Nerf football. We took a break for lunch, where V discovered that the hoagie she ordered had lettuce and onions on it and OH MY GOD they ruined it and now she can’t eat it. Really, though – HOW does one screw up an order when one is reading the order from a screen???

My wayward brother returned around that time and gladly took the poisoned hoagie. I unclogged the downstairs toilet because apparently kids can clog toilets anywhere. Dad came outside and we chatted for almost an hour, which was wonderful since with his work and so much traveling we haven’t seen each other in months, except for Father’s Day. He and stepmom just returned from Cabo. We compared our experiences since I was there long before there were luxury hotels and condos, possibly even predating the drug cartels.

Yesterday, on the actual 4th, Todd and I took my mom and the kids to the place on the water we’d gone to two days earlier. It was crowded but we got a table on the deck under cover, and enjoyed steamed clams, shrimp, crabcakes, double cheeseburgers and chicken fingers and fries. Opac ordered crabby fries too – French fries smothered in crab dip and melted cheese – which Todd was keen to try until it was delivered to the table with chopped tomatoes on top. (Reminder: he’s allergic. Reminder: shit like this happens every time he goes out.) We got a replacement because WHO puts chopped tomatoes on cheese fries, and our server was awesome and brought us one right away.

It was breezy and warm there by the water, until the sky opened up and folks were scattering to get under cover and away from the sides where the rain drizzled down over tables. We were fortunate to be seated in the middle. Still had a view, but it was very dry. Well, dry but for the sweating margaritas and a frozen one that took a nosedive onto my feet under the table.

No 4th of July is complete without a round of Clue (it was Peacock in the bedroom with a dagger, by the way) and comforting the two dogs during the apocalypse of fireworks coming from every direction. I’m telling you seriously, not one creature, great or small was spared. Even the frogs were hollering.

 

 

Sometimes Life is A Country Song

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My life doesn’t always read like a country song, but when it does…

***If you’re pressed for time, I’ve made it easy for you – just read the bolded phrases.

That snow storm that cut my San Francisco trip short was heavy and became solid ice hours afterward. Several days later as the sun melted it off the roof of the house – a sheet of it fell on, and caved in, the hood of my new car.

The new kitten we adopted turned out to have a polyp on his larynx – a catastrophic mass which would involve resectioning his digestive and respiratory tracts and likely a tracheotomy for a while – and I was forced to make the worst decision a person can ever make, while he was in the OR. I scream-cried for an hour after the surgeon and I ended our call. The bill – all totaled – $1800.

I started a new job – the highlight of my Spring – a part-time position with the world-renowned Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. It’s going to be 2 days a week, but I have been training 3 days a week in the office, and I have to spend a week in Philadelphia in Epic training. That’s Epic training, not training that is epic.

My anxiety has topped the charts over working all these extra hours in the midst of all this other personal stuff, having to cover Veruca’s schedule with school and softball when I can’t readily be there, and now having to drive to Philly every morning at the break of dawn and not getting home until 7. I don’t do Philly. Send me to New York any day. Although technically my “home” city (my parents took me there A LOT, growing up), I get lost in Philly with its labyrinth of streets named after trees that confuses me.

My 92-year-old grandfather passed away a couple of weeks ago. Todd and I drove up last weekend for the memorial service, but had to cut our time short due to another commitment in Baltimore in the evening (see below).

Opac had oral surgery and won the award for Worst Patient Ever. I took him to a longtime client of ours, because I trusted him absolutely with my precious offspring. Opac presented himself to this like a tough footballer with a bring-it-on attitude, that is, until about an hour into our ride home when the pain kicked in and he was hollering and swearing and crying. I had to stop for the Percocet and prayed they’d hurry up on it, while Opac sat in the car with his stupid fucking ice pack that isn’t helping at all texting me in a panic because I hadn’t come out after 5 minutes. No one likes to see their kid in pain and be helpless to fix it, and he brought me to tears.

The Percocet took an eternity to kick in – I swear to God I am not exaggerating – well over an hour before O stopped moaning. And believe me, he’s loud. The level of stress ranks right up there next to the 5 days I spent at CHOP when Veruca was diagnosed with diabetes. He wanted to die, FML, wanted to hang himself, and at one point told me I’d see him at his funeral in two days. (This news, while disturbingly and inappropriately funny, did not go over well given the current state of family affairs.) I literally dove into a bottle of wine the minute Todd walked in the door after work.

Roughly ten days after granddad passed, my uncle passed suddenly and unexpectedly. It was a shock to everyone, and my cousins have been struggling with the news and planning a service. There’s more related drama, but out of respect for them I will not mention it. Meanwhile, my grandmother had to be told and, as expected, it was not for the faint-hearted. We were seriously concerned there would be a third funeral.

After grandad’s memorial, Todd and I raced home for a wardrobe change and then we were off to his college’s annual Gala – first time for me. It was a great time! I met some new people, caught up with others. We bid on some auction items and won a piece of artwork now hanging in our living room and, though I really wanted the Michael Kors bag, I bowed out of the bidding war for that once it topped $200. The bad part of the evening was that I was drinking vodka+cranberry’s, against my better judgement after I realized it was Absolut they were pouring, and I got very drunk and very sick afterward. I’m fairly certain it was a reaction to all the stress I’ve been under, because I’ve had more to drink than this before and didn’t come close to feeling this way.

I spent the entire next day on the couch feeling like I wanted to die. The kids came home later that night from their dad’s. Opac hit a wall the day before with his pain level and there was no more Percocet, and my ex had to call the doctor – who explained to him that he was not getting more Percocet and he needed to take an OTC cocktail of ibuprofen and Tylenol that would help, along with some other topical instructions. Ex texted me his disappointment (read= doctor was so rude and cold, what a d***) and at this point I was now wondering how much damage control I was going to have to do at the followup appointment. Meanwhile, Opac called me in the middle of the College President’s speech at the gala to complain about his pain and not knowing what to do. Really, I tried to be compassionate but for the love of God – could I not have ONE night without stress and worry?

And so it goes. The hangover I had morphed into some sort of viral thing and my gut was in knots for days, and I’m still not feeling totally normal.

Meanwhile, my uncle’s wife developed an aortic rupture and we were told she had a 20% chance of survival. So she is currently in hospital under heavy sedation, and missed her husband’s funeral.

That is all.

 

 

Destination San Fran – The Anti-Climax

There was exactly one flight out before the storm – the next morning, Monday, at 6:30 a.m. – with enough seats for us. The rest of the flights – particularly Wednesday – were already booked.

So, our trip cut short – the shortest trip I’ve ever taken to California – we missed our tour of Alcatraz (already purchased tickets and paid for) and never rode the trolley, never got close to the Golden Gate Bridge. I really, really wanted to walk the GG, since the steel for the bridge came from my hometown in PA. Those 3 activities topped my list for our trip, and I missed all three of them to fly home again at the crack of dawn to beat an effin snowstorm that should’ve happened two months ago. PSA #1 : Never, ever, plan the best stuff for last.

The cab we ordered to pick us up at the hotel arrived quite timely – and we later learned he hijacked us from the cab that was ordered. Todd and I decided to grab some breakfast at the terminal – this place was the bomb with made-to-order omelets – though I was in no position to eat anything but a bagel and a coffee. PSA #2 : Never, ever, eat Mexican the night before a 6-hour flight.

Todd ordered a hot chocolate with NO whipped cream. When he picked it up at the end of the line, it had whipped cream on it. See what I’m talking about? And what’s worse – he ordered a cinnamon roll and the girl bagged him a cinnamon muffin, which everyone knows are two entirely different things. So, while it happened to him again, I have to add that I ordered a blueberry muffin for later, and I didn’t open it up until we were airborne somewhere over Colorado and it was definitely not a blueberry muffin. I still don’t know what it was, but I ate it anyway.

We couldn’t get a direct flight so we had to fly into LA and catch another plane, and when we arrived we learned there was another flight leaving for Baltimore RIGHT NOW with 3 seats left if we wanted it. We took it. And of course it was a pain in the ass finding seats, and absolutely no overhead storage left so we had to check our carry-ons. I sat between a sweet elderly lady from Connecticut, and the young guy on my right kindly helped me pick up my pile of shit I spilled on the floor, and kept himself busy with games on his iPad. All appearances were it was going to be a nice easy flight.

And then Todd came up and invited me to switch with the woman seated next to him who’d offered. So I found myself sandwiched between my husband and this guy on the window seat who wasn’t much bigger than me but you’d think he was an NFL linebacker by the way he commandeered both armrests and sat with his knees further apart than a hooker in Alphabet City. He encroached on my personal space for nearly 5 hours and I haven’t wanted to punch somebody that bad since – two days ago.

We arrived in Baltimore in the afternoon, and had to wait for our carry-ons to come to the baggage carousel, which is like waiting for the dog to poo on a winter walk. And then we were directed to the wrong carousel, watching the same poor bags circling (which is positively maddening), until Todd looked over his shoulder and just happened to spot my carry-on on the carousel behind us. PSA #3 : Always use carry-on, and if you can’t – buy a really colorful bag that stands out.

The drive home wasn’t horrendous, but since Ex was sick with the flu, I had to drive all the way to his house to pick up Veruca, praying to beat the snow. Which, for those unfamiliar, is roughly two hours from BWI. So, after 13 and a half hours of traveling, I finally had V in the car and we drove home in the first flurries of winter storm Stella.

 

Destination: San Francisco, Day 2… Hey!

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Photo copyright TKA and The Tara Chronicles

I was wide awake at 5:30 a.m., and Todd and Jonathan left early for the conference at 6:30. It was still dark out. I stayed in bed, thinking I’d go back to sleep, but instead started reading the hotel’s guidebooks.

Not expecting the boys back before lunch, I took to Google maps to see exactly where we were and what was around us, contemplating what I would do with myself to fill the morning. Sure, plenty of shopping. My God, could I shop! But, alas, appearances are deceiving and I don’t have money to spend like that.

My plan was to go to the coffee shop down the street for pastry or a bagel, some fruit and yogurt, and then walk over to Old Navy and buy a cheap pair of sunglasses (I left mine at home). Suddenly, I heard somebody yell, Hey!

Hey! I heard it again. Hey! It was loud, and it was coming from the street outside my window, which – by the way – is good for nothing except keeping the birds out. Hey!

Curiosity got the best of me and I slid out of bed and opened the curtain to see what was going on. Hey! Across the street was a man loitering about 10 feet from the corner, yelling Hey! at every car passing and at people on the street.

Hey! Then all of sudden his pants are down and, oh….he’s going to urinate. Perfect. Hey! He turns back toward the street and he’s still yelling hey! at cars going by. With his pants down. He’s holding his penis, which is fairly impressive if I can see it from the fourth floor, and he’s shaking it around and yelling hey!

I’m fairly open-minded, but it was just too damn early in the morning for this. Not to mention the fact that I really wanted some coffee and there was no way in hell I was going out there while the Schlonger was out there. I don’t know when he was gone because there’s only so much penis a person can take before breakfast and I’d gone back to my reading. Eventually I showered and dressed just moments before Todd texted he was on his way back.

The three of us ventured out for food and walked several blocks in search of some “diner” they had seen from the cab and were trying to recall exactly where it was. We stopped at Old Navy for sunglasses and noticed a line forming outside the store that wrapped around the building. Somebody from the Golden State Warriors was scheduled to appear and sign autographs. I always wonder at people who stand in lines three-hundred people strong just for an autograph.

The weather – absolutely beautiful – and architecture juxtaposed with scores of homeless we passed. The smell of weed, legal in here, floated on the air with nauseating frequency. We checked out a handful of places on our way, but any worthwhile ones had ridiculous lines (it was Sunday, after all). We finally found Mel’s Drive-In – which is I guess what they had in mind – and were seated right away.

Todd has this luck with places when we eat out where something always happens to him. And only to him. I pointed it out, casually explaining to Jonathan that he’s a magnet for this shit. Todd protested, but I swear to God it happened several times on this trip and he couldn’t deny it. Case in point: #1 – the lettuce/tomato/pickle incident at John’s Grill the day before.

#2. His iced tea glass at Mel’s appeared to have something on it. And then his omelet wasn’t fully cooked. Everyone else’s food was perfect.

We passed a store called Good Vibrations with a poster illustrating the evolution of vibrators for each decade since the 1970s. The catchphrase: Creating a Buzz Since 1977. This cracked me up. Jonathan said he’d give me $20 to buy one and try to get it through airport security. I told you he was a man of few, but calculated words.

We walked back past Old Navy, the line now stretching two city blocks. We considered taking the trolley, but the line was as long as the day before. I suggested we save it for tomorrow, since we could take it to Fisherman’s Wharf to catch our Alcatraz tour.

We decided to take a cable car to Fisherman’s Wharf anyway, and were surprised at the stark difference between environments – Union Square vs. Fisherman’s Wharf. No less people, but it felt much less humanly-chaotic. Opac called me while I was on the cable car, to update me on Veruca’s condition and to suggest that maybe he should skip school tomorrow since there’ll be a snow day on Tuesday anyway. I failed to see the logic in this and told him to forget it.

We walked around the waterfront and took pictures. My friend Dave, who lives out here, warned me to avoid touristy things, but it really wasn’t all that bad. I found a place called Hard Water, with a wall of whiskeys, bourbons, and single malts. Looked like a good place to stop to me, with only 4 people seated around a u-shaped bar; however, we pressed on.

Eventually we hopped a cable car back to Union Square, where Todd realized his cell phone had officially crapped out and lucky us – there was a T-Mobile store right there. So J and I sat down while Todd handled his phone situation, and Opac called me again. I was completely parched and dehydrated, so I stepped outside to see if there was anywhere nearby that might sell water. No dice. I called V to see how she was feeling – she only had a fever which left her very sleepy, but certainly NOT flu. Her dad did have the flu, and he actually joked that I know how he is when he’s sick (giant wuss on his deathbed) and I remarked he was lucky to have his wife, to which he simply said, ah, she just ignores me.

Anyway, we had plans for dinner with another colleague and his wife at 5 so we returned to the hotel to clean up. The boys took the elevator and made fun of me for taking the stairs. But I told you, I’m not dying on an elevator in San Francisco. Besides, I passed other people who chose to take the stairs, thus confirming my concerns.

We met them at their hotel and walked to Tropisueno, a Mexican restaurant with divine food and even better margaritas. The place was already bustling but the ambience lent intimacy and felt comfortable, not rushed. The conversation melted away from shop talk into personal stories and speculation about the impending snow storm on Tuesday.

Afterward, Jonathan and Rob grabbed some Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, and we continued walking. We passed the Disney Store and went in. There’s a lot of Beauty and the Beast stuff, which I love, though thank God I didn’t have money with me because I had just enough of a buzz to have bought stuff. There was a short lightsaber battle by the front door, and the cast member there showed me a secret Jedi handshake, which I’ve completely forgotten now. And that’s when our night abruptly ended, when J got the email that our Tuesday morning flight had been cancelled.

*Many of us are familiar with the slang, schlong, but have you heard of a schlort? Urban Dictionary defines schlong as a penis of fairly good length, so then it’s not difficult to guess what a schlort is.

Destination San Francisco: Dazed and Confused

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Photo copyright  TKA and The Tara Chronicles, 2017

Part 1, continued

So we get off the plane and head toward the exit where Visitor Information gives us a thousand instructions on taking BART into the city. Todd is the only one paying attention. She lost me after the third step of the directions. We opt for a cab, which they said would cost about $65. After six hours on a plane and no sleep, it was a no-brainer.

We crossed the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge, where I caught my first IRL sighting of the Golden Gate Bridge. Outside my window, people walking everywhere, pushing strollers, wearing St. Patrick’s Day attire, and I saw a woman digging through a trash can. I watched the cab’s meter ticking. We racked up $60 faster than a slot machine swallowing money, and by this time Todd was getting antsy. Because today was the St. Patrick’s Day parade and every other street was closed to traffic. He made the call to exit the cab at $85 and walk the rest of the way to the hotel.

The Hotel Bijou, billed as a boutique hotel, is themed after the cinema, and located on the corner of Mason and Eddy Streets. There was a homeless man sitting cross-legged against the hotel wall, the sole of one shoe all but gone, smoking what appeared to be a very fat spliff. I ambivalently followed Todd into the hotel lobby which, at half the size of our kitchen, disproportionately resembled the online pictures.

The 65-room hotel was built in 1911. The lobby walls were eggplant colored and two canary-yellow chairs faced the double doors. The counter resembled a retro movie theater counter, part of which had a glass display case with the standard movie snacks. There was an apprehension behind me that was palpable, before Jonathan seemed to hear my thoughts and said aloud, this should be fine. Todd, ever chatty, told the clerk he liked the theme of the hotel. She informed him that they were renovating and soon the cinema theme would be gone, which explained the discrepancy of the pictures and the large black curtain ominously covering one wall of the lobby. She explained that beyond the curtain was a space large enough to cater to 150 people, and that the renovations were intended to open up that space as a restaurant/event space.

One of the maids appeared with a steam machine, with which she began to clean the art deco carpet not more than 8 feet away while we were still checking in. I glanced at Todd, waiting for a reaction. I looked over my shoulder at her for a millisecond, and watched the clerk for a reaction. None from anyone.

After we were all checked in, she instructed us to make sure we pushed the elevator button hard. I’ve never been afraid of elevators, having attended NYU where nearly every class I had involved riding an elevator. I pushed the 4th floor button hard and….. nothing. I pushed it again. And again. This elevator made me nervous. Jonathan stood silently still. He’s a man of few, but calculated words. Todd reached over and pressed it and suddenly the doors closed and we rumbled upward. All I could think was, I didn’t fly OPEN SEATING for SIX hours on a plane with a screaming child to San Francisco just to die in an elevator.

Each room door has a plaque emblazoned with a movie title. Ours was After the Thin Man, a movie I’ve never even heard of, and J got 48 hours. The bare-bones room contained art deco-ish furniture well past its prime, a forest-green carpet, and yellow walls. I threw myself back on the bed and stared at the ceiling, while Todd pulled out his laptop and connected to the wifi. I snapped a couple of selfies never to be posted on social media. No matter what I do, I can never find a good angle that doesn’t look like Quasimodo.

After freshening up, we ventured out in search of food…by this time it was about 3 p.m. which to our sensibilities was really 6 p.m. and, after eating only breakfast, was a long overdue dinner-time. The man outside the hotel was gone, but there were several others in the vicinity talking to themselves or shouting at each other. Where were we?

We stumbled on John’s Grill, a lovely, albeit small little establishment “since 1908” with dark wood-paneled walls covered with black and white photos of famous people. It was the setting for the Maltese Falcon, and apparently a landmark self-described as having excellent service.

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Photo copyright  TKA and The Tara Chronicles, 2017

Jonathan had the salmon, which was the best he’s ever had. I opted for comfort food with the Ravioli Primavera in a creamy tomato sauce. Todd ordered a New York Steak sandwich, served open-faced with seasoned fries. One side held the steak, the other side lettuce, tomato, and pickle. Todd apologized and asked the waiter for another half without tomato (he’s allergic). Sure! Said the waiter, and never came back. I don’t know what you consider “excellent service,” but a waiter with no more than four tables who can’t remember who ordered what (including drinks) and forgets to check back at the table, like ever, wouldn’t last a day in my restaurant.

When he finally did return, he pulled a classic pass-the-buck by asking, they never brought that out to you? And then redeemed himself by bringing us flan with fresh berries on the house, which is not only my most favorite dessert ever, but was killer. The boys were kind enough to be stuffed and only ate a few bites, leaving the rest to me. Opac called while we were there, informing me that Veruca and her dad had come home from softball practice with the flu.

As we were finishing up, I overheard a homeless man enter the restaurant begging for just a cup of coffee, and the hostess quietly shooed him outside. Summary review: The food was every bit as good as the exiting patrons promised when we arrived. Definitely check it out.

We walked around afterward in balmy temperatures reaching a breezy 70 degrees, encountering a homeless man in a wheelchair having a lengthy conversation with the air, and eventually made our way to Market Street. We passed the cable car turnaround, with a line of maybe 80 people. Major stores, street performers, and such a cultural diversity it was almost as if we weren’t in Kansas anymore.

An organized but small rally of black Americans was standing near The Gap corner, yelling about the black man and the white man and I-don’t-know-what-else, but it immediately threw me back to my first excursion out as an NYU student when I encountered a similar message delivered slightly less emphatically by men dressed in white robes. Something about it made me feel more uncomfortable this time.

A group of college kids ran by us wearing banana headdresses. There was a 3-piece scrappy-looking band playing really good music, and folks were stopping to listen, video, and dance. The earlier police presence during the parade had all but vanished.

The boys were on a quest for coffee that wasn’t Starbucks, and we ended up at a corner coffee shop about a block from our hotel. We sat in front of the huge glass window. I drank water while they talked shop, listening with half an ear and watching people outside, trying to process the day and not to make eye contact with anyone. Which is hard to do when you’re sitting in a huge window like an animal in the zoo.

The conversation turned to the impending winter storm hitting the east coast that threatened to derail our plans to return Tuesday. I’d faded into the background as one would in a dream sequence, hearing and seeing everything but feeling very much apart from it. And, just as suddenly, my heart was pounding and I was feeling a crushing anxiety. Todd, so attuned to me, turned and asked if I was alright. No, I said.

I knew it was just fatigue, and said so. I’d had just 3 hours of sleep and none on the plane, and everything compounded my sensitivities until I felt like my chest would explode. We walked back to the hotel, crossing the street behind a group of young men being chased by a woman screaming give me back my money! over and over. I turned quickly toward the hotel and missed one of them punching her until she fell over in the street.

Once inside the room I felt the hot tears pushing through the ducts like a birthing baby. Everything just fell to pieces. I pulled myself together and changed into pjs, laid on the bed while Todd skyped with J and Matt back home on the presentation. I posted on FB lamenting on the overwhelming homeless situation here, and promptly passed out – at roughly 6:30 p.m. Pacific.

Destination: San Francisco, Part 1

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Three hours into a six-hour flight on Southwest Airlines. Had no idea about “open seating.” WTF is up with open seating? Whose idea was this? We were literally among the last five to board, so Todd and I were separated, but luckily were across the aisle from each other in the middle seats. AKA, the seats nobody wants. But I got to sit with someone he knows from the college, so it made it a little better.

I just got up from a bathroom break. Jonathan is in the last row by the window and he’s holding the bag of soft pretzels, so I grabbed it on my way back to my seat. They were yummy. A bit salty, but buttery good. Todd is drawing on his iPad. “Fritos in the sky.” I love his whimsical stuff right now. It’s fun. And weird. Like me.

There’s a very small child two rows ahead of us who’s been serenading us with variations of screams and exclamations. I was almost asleep during a lull and then Blam! I opened my eyes and made eye contact with the woman in front of me, who was standing in the aisle. We gave each other that look of OH MY GOD. Three more hours of this.

There are several people on board from the college who are also attending the conference, so it kinda feels like a class trip. Except this is more subdued, and there’s alcohol. It’s going to be fun. We were already socializing in the airport waiting to board. We’re invited to the president’s dinner on Monday night, which should be great fun given who’s along for the ride.

Confession: this is my first plane ride in 19 years. First trip back to California in 22. How did so much time get away from me?? So, in reality, flying hasn’t changed all that much, but some things are definitely different.

Last night we went to the bowling alley. I wasn’t going to drink because we had to get up at 4:30 this morning, but then Connie showed up and asked for a recommendation, and like a good friend I told her to have a Long Island Iced Tea. We hung out at the bar watching these 5 old guys flirting with the girls on the opposite side of the bar; it cracked me up so I took a pic. One of them offered us shots too, but that was a road I wasn’t going down last night. I had 3 Coronas, and that was enough. I was up until 1 packing and organizing. I think I managed 3 hours and maybe 50 minutes of sleep.

1:06 p.m. (EST) Tried reading my Nat Geo article about Vikings. Sleepy. Think I dozed off for a few, but baby starting screeching again. Ugh. I’m getting stabby.

2:30 p.m. We had a reprieve for about a half hour, but she’s back. Practicing for a very bad opera, or a heavy metal band. Doesn’t matter to my ears at this point. They are bleeding. My nerves are completely shot. The captain has informed us that we’re about 40 minutes out yet. Sweet Jesus! I can’t wait to get off this rocket.

Oh hooray! It’s going to get bumpy and we’re starting to clean up. If there was any way to clear it with the FDA and the AAP, I would seriously lobby for mandatory Valium dosing of children under 5 on flights longer than 2 hours. Apparently these parents haven’t heard of Benadryl. Seriously. All mommy did was “ssshhh” every time she screamed and by the fourth hour I was ready to throw my cell phone at them both.

I’ve recently been heavily reminiscing about Opac’s baby days. But I’ve never been more glad than I am today that my kids are way older than this now. Holy shit. Nobody wants to be the most hated people on the plane.

Time to put the tray tables back in the upright position…

A Day in PA

It was a great bookend to a very bizarre weekend that involved a new car and a fire, both of which I am not authorized to discuss publicly. Not to mention a shocking Superbowl win for the Patriots.

My mom had oral surgery yesterday morning and everyone knows you need a driver for that kind of stuff and as the daughter it’s my job to get her there. And take pictures.

So after a series of extremely fucked up dreams I fell into after each blood sugar check, all of which clearly indicate a very disturbed subconscious – including being detained at the airport because I was carrying pump supplies which weren’t authorized and another dream about being summoned by a mean spirit who lives in the restaurant who meant to harm me – I got two kids off to school without missing any busses and twenty minutes later I was on my way to PA.

Anyway, the drive was mostly uneventful, at least until I got to a major intersection where my right turn lane had the green arrow and I was following the cars in front of me into that turn when all of a sudden, this car from the other side of the highway does a complete U-turn right into me. Slammed the brakes, she slammed the brakes, and I could literally see the whites of her eyes while I lost my shit through my closed window.

Fact: U-turns are ILLEGAL in Pennsylvania. I know this because – born and raised – and lived 44 years (minus 3 in New York) in Pennsylvania. Had I not been on a tight timetable, I might have let her hit me. Just because I’m crazy enough to teach the little bitch a lesson in driving safety and another little something called, The Law.

So Mom goes to the oral surgeon. Except I’m driving and she keeps telling me where to go like I haven’t grown up in this town and don’t know my way around, and then she doesn’t even know where his office is, except I do because I’ve already been there with Opac. She gets out of the car and notes the concrete steps she’ll have to navigate on the way out when she’s all loopy. I told her I’d move the damn car after she went in. No, it’s okay, she said. I give her a pass, since she’s been up for 3 hours and hasn’t had coffee yet and I know how that feels.

So the procedure took about an hour or so and then she was in recovery and they come get me. I know many people have been there with their parents and/or have lost parents, but I have been doubly blessed to have both of mine and they’re healthy, so my eyes watered when I saw her. She was still coming out of the anesthesia so she was sleepy-eyed and her right cheek was bulging with gauze. She looked over at me and I held up my phone and, say cheese! Her eyes narrowed and I told her I was just kidding, because I was.

She was lucid enough to talk, and she was saying stuff to me I couldn’t understand – one, because I’m hard of hearing, and two, because her mouth is stuffed with gauze and so all I hear is wuh wuh wuh wuh ah buh wuh unh huh. And I’m pissed, because she is still in recovery and maybe I’m missing some really good shit here. But eventually she told me to go ahead and take the pic, and she posed with the bulging gauzed-out cheek and her eyes shut and her tongue hanging out the side of her mouth. We sent it to a friend and I captioned it, they said it’ll be another 2o minutes or so until she can get her tongue back in her mouth. And I started laughing so hard I was crying, and then Mom started sniggling and it was hard because she couldn’t feel the right side of her face which was even funnier.

We eventually got the all-clear and she got her exit papers. We made a drug run to CVS where she made new friends as she waited with this giant ice pack pressed to her cheek, and I repressed my desire to blurt out that she was in a bar brawl, and then I took her home and made my way back to Maryland. But I can’t do this without passing through part of my old hometown, which is full of wonder and excitement that only the fully initiated can appreciate. I passed a woman standing on the side of the street in a camouflage bathrobe and flip flops, a winter hat with the ball on top that was bright blue with white snowflakes on it and a scarf wrapped around her face so only her eyes were visible. She was pacing back and forth. This is Pottstown at its finest, folks. I just can’t make this shit up.

I made it back home with 10 minutes to spare before the kids got there…by some miracle after being cut off, tailgated, and narrowly avoiding what should have been a 10-car pile-up on Route 100 in Lionville (for those who know) when this woman threw on her right turn signal and just merged without ever looking. Thank God for the car in front of me and their quick reflexes, because otherwise we were all going down.

Meanwhile, back in Maryland…

Ever have one of those days where you’re sure the universe is trying to tell you something? I think yesterday was that day. Besides the rainy day and the PA drivers living up to their stellar reputation for dangerous driving, I rushed home to find our garage door open – which has done so spontaneously now 3 times and so it’s been disconnected. I was gone all day, and I have no idea when it opened.

Then the kids descended on the house with their own level of chaos, ransacking the kitchen and scaring the dog and the cat, whose tail puffed out like a deployed airbag. And then they’re arguing with each other, which seems impossible when they’ve been apart for 8 hours. And then I get the news that the toilet is clogged again. And no one knows how it happened.

Rush hour here looks like: hurry up and make dinner, feed the pets, drag the kids out of their bedrooms where they’re both practically asleep, clean up dinner and dishes, process two loads of laundry, unclog a toilet and finish the vacuuming started by Veruca, who was ordered to clean up her mess under the counter. Fruity Pebbles are the annoying glitter of the cereal world.

How did it end? On the couch with V – watching old episodes of X-Files. Todd finally rolled in around 10 and I might have been awake for a whole 20 minutes after.

 

 

 

 

 

Three Years Later

It happened again. Another anniversary crept up on me before I even realized it was happening. It turns out today is the 3rd anniversary of our move to Maryland. If this is news to you, and you really want the back story, there are links at the end of this post. For the purposes of this post, however, I had to go back and revisit Two Years Later just to see how things have changed.

Three years later, our lives have seen some big changes and we’ve said some goodbyes. We said goodbye to elementary school, as Veruca “graduated” the 5th grade. We said goodbye to Neph, who decided to move back home. We said goodbye to Pi. She lived a long and happy life, but she was ready long before we would ever be. So, we now have just one dog and one cat, and no plans to add to the brood. Some extended-family dynamics changed as well, which are better left unsaid.

Three years later, Opac has returned to football after a broken collarbone acquired during practice tackling drills last year. He is starting this year as a JV defensive lineman. I heard his name and jersey number announced for the first time last night, when he ran the ball runner out of bounds. Proud momma moment! He’s still an honor student… nothing new to see here. He still likes his rap music, but he has recently discovered the WWF of the 1980s and loves replaying videos of his favorites, Randy Savage and Rick Flair. I wish I could just explain the irony of this.

Three years later, Veruca has started middle school. It was a much easier transition than I expected. I was much less emotional about it than I was when O started. This year, V has met two other girls in her grade with Type 1 diabetes, and it’s had a very interesting and positive effect on her. And, after much deliberation, she returned to cheer this year, but I think this is going to be the last year. She’s ready to try something new, and I admit I’m ready to put an end to six days a week of running kids to and from practices/sports.

Three years later, we didn’t do any major renovations around the house, but we did some minor things in preparation for my in-laws’ 50th anniversary party. Which we hosted here. It was a bit stressful in the month leading up to it, but the party itself turned out great and we had gorgeous weather. We had a tent, live music, and a neighbor hollered at one of our guests parking on the street.

Three years later, Todd is still a professor. He’s taken a step back from more intense responsibilities but if you ask me, I think he’s now climbing the walls. He is still working on that personal and potentially very lucrative project that I mentioned briefly last year. Breath held. Meanwhile – and I know this will come as a shock to those who know me – I’m still working in the restaurant business. Somehow I think I will die there, and they’ll bury me under the bar. However, I am also doing some grant research and writing – I’m really enjoying it and I’m hoping to see it develop more in the coming year.

Three years later, the apartment we said we’d never rent – is occupied. No worries – it’s a good thing. A good friend of ours was in need, and the timing was good. You know the family you get and the family you choose? He’s the family we choose. There’s a lot of trust there, and for that I’m grateful.

Three years later, and this is a big one – Todd and I finally got that vacation. It was shorter than we would’ve liked, but it was longer than a weekend and we were alone.

Three years later, I’m a Marylander. I’m not just visiting, I’m not a new resident, I LIVE HERE. I no longer feel like an outsider, I truly feel like I belong here.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Changing Places – The Prequel

Changing Places – Moving Day

Changing Places – We’re Not in Kansas Anymore

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I ABSOLUTELY DO NOT SUPPORT DONALD TRUMP. NOT YESTERDAY, NOT TODAY, NOT – EVER.